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LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2016) – This June, taking your bike for a ride could help save lives.
UK HealthCare and the Lexington Cancer Foundation are teaming up to present the Survive the Night Triathlon and the Roll for the Cure on June 17-18. All proceeds from these events will benefit the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, providing funding for patient care, research and more.
Survive the Night is a unique overnight triathlon relay created by Markey radiation oncologist Dr. Jonathan Feddock, who is also an avid triathlete himself. Participants will swim, bike and run for a combined 140.7 miles. Participants can choose to compete solo or put together a team of up to 10 people to complete the relay.
Roll for the Cure is the Lexington Cancer Foundation's annual bike event to raise awareness and funds for cancer care. Participants can choose the length of their ride: 95, 50, 35, or 10 miles through Kentucky Horse Farms, or a short Family Fun ride around Commonwealth Stadium. The longer rides will include rest stops at Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve.
Survive the Night begins Friday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m. beginning at Commonwealth Stadium on the UK campus. Registration is $450 per team through April 30 and $500 per team thereafter until May 30.
Roll for the Cure will also begin at Commonwealth Stadium, starting on Saturday, June 18 with the 95- and 50-mile rides at 8 a.m. The 30- and 10-mile rides will begin at 10 a.m. and the Family Fun ride begins at 11 a.m. Registration for the longer rides is $75 and the Family Fun ride is $10.
For more information or to register for Survive the Night or Roll for the Cure, visit lexingtoncancerfoundation.org.
MEDIA CONTACT: Allison Perry, (859) 323-2399 or firstname.lastname@example.org
LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 21, 2016) – Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Alberto de Hoyos has joined the thoracic oncology team at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.
De Hoyos’s clinical interests include treatment of lung and esophageal cancers, neuroendocrine tumors and mediastienal tumors, with specialties including minimally invasive and robotic surgery.
De Hoyos earned his medical degree from the Universidat Autonoma de Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico. He then completed his residency in cardiothoracic surgery at Northwestern University in Chicago.
De Hoyos completed a fellowship in minimally invasive thoracic surgery at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, a pulmonary fellowship at the University of Toronto, and a research fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
De Hoyos is certified by the American Board of Surgery as well as the American Board of Thoracic Surgery.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 13, 2016) — University of Kentucky researchers Robin Vanderpool and Mark Dignan are leading projects funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities to continue Markey Cancer Center’s community-based efforts aimed at reducing cancer rates in Appalachia. Both programs are funded for three years.
Appalachian regions, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, have disproportionately high rates of both incidence and mortality due to cancer when compared to other regions in the United States. Poverty, lack of access to health care, poor diet, tobacco use, and lack of exercise conspire together to produce high rates of preventable cancers in Appalachia.
The UK Markey Cancer Center brings together numerous disciplines and universities throughout Appalachia to research and implement community-based solutions to help reduce the rate of cancer in the region. The additional funding received supports two projects: the National Outreach Network (NON) and a Geographical Management of Health Disparities Program (GMaP).
The NON program provides funding to support a community health educator (CHE) who will be strategically integrated into Markey Cancer Center’s cancer prevention and control activities. Through NCI’s National Outreach Network, the CHE is linked to a collection of evidence-based resources and programs to increase access to accurate and culturally tailored cancer information, education and outreach activities to improve local cancer health disparities.
The CHE role will enhance coordination of cancer prevention and control activities with the Markey Cancer Center, GMaP investigators, Kentucky Cancer Program (KCP), Kentucky Cancer Consortium, and other state, regional, and local community partners. Mindy Rogers, who recently served as regional cancer control specialist with KCP in the Cumberland Valley region of the state, will serve as the NON CHE covering Kentucky’s Appalachian communities.
GMaP includes partners at the cancer centers of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia, as well as health disparities researchers at the University of South Carolina. GMaP will focus on increasing research training opportunities in our region, mentoring students and investigators early in their careers, and work with the NON CHE to reach out to the community.
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue
LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 12, 2016) — Five weeks at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center seemed like an eternity for bone marrow transplant recipient Earl Harris.
Two days after he started the treatment, his 91-year-old mother died, and the demands of the transplantation process meant he couldn’t attend her funeral. As days of inpatient treatment turned into weeks, the bus driver who transports special needs children to school in Jefferson County was anxious to return to his bus route — and his golf clubs.
Harris, a lymphoma survivor from Valley Springs, Kentucky, spent the entire month of April 2015 in isolation after receiving a bone marrow transplant at the UK Markey Cancer Center. Even close family members were discouraged from visiting Harris because his compromised immune system was vulnerable to infection. Harris experienced a number of medical scares, such as a sudden drop in his blood level counts and an episode of colitis, and needed highly specialized care just to recover from the transplantation.
Harris benefited from the specialized care of Tia Thistlewood, his primary care nurse who reminded him of the many reasons to persevere through the transplantation process. Thistlewood, a student on the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) track of the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program at the UK College of Nursing, is tailoring her education to provide advanced clinical expertise caring for patients undergoing the risk-laden process of bone marrow transplantation.
“She was just a relief to see,” Harris said of Thistlewood. “Her expertise seemed to standout.”
Thistlewood has learned the priceless skill of coaching Markey patients through the trial of a bone marrow transplantation, which can require weeks or even months of inpatient care. While blood cancer patients who receive a bone marrow transplant can extend their life by several years, the temporary trade-off is subjecting their bodies to a stripping of all abnormal cells, which also devastates the immune system. Bone marrow transplant patients receive stem cells or donor cells, which migrate to their bone marrow and replenish damaged or destroyed cells. A number of complications can arise during the transplantation process, and nurses must know how chemotherapy and cancer affects the entire body and immune system.
“They can become critically ill very quickly and it takes a lot of training and skill to recognize when your patient needs extra care,” Thistlewood said. “It humbles me to think I’m that person keeping you well and getting you those interventions.”
In addition to the isolation from their daily lives and families, the transplantation process puts an emotional, physical and mental strain on patients. Nurses must monitor vital signs and watch for numerous complications during recovery, but they also help patients keep their eye on the prize of getting home to their families and lives.
“You get to know your patients and their family, and you become almost as close as family with your patients,” Thistlewood said. “You learn so much about life and relationships — you almost forget cancer is part of the equation.”
While the CNS track helps develop leadership and organizational skills, its primary purpose is to prepare advance practice nurses with a specific clinical expertise to assist patients and care providers in complex health care settings. This specialized training and emphasis on leadership gives nurses a competitive edge in their workplaces and equips them with the knowledge to enact positive change in health systems management.
“In my experience as a staff nurse, I have identified many ways to make the system better,” Thistlewood said. “In order to make the most impact, I chose to go back to school. The CNS track was attractive to me because of the role’s diversity.”
Thistlewood said applying her knowledge in clinical practice is an important component of the CNS track. In addition to providing individual care directly to patients, CNS students are also trained to identify ways to improve patient outcomes through systematic health care delivery.
In applying her advanced knowledge to clinical practice at Markey, Thistlewood is identifying checkpoints along the bone marrow transplant trajectory where nurses have the opportunity to clarify information for patients. Through her interactions with patients, Thistlewood has noticed many patients are unclear or confused about what to expect during transplantation, and tension builds as they spend more time away from their homes and families. This tension can lead to conflict and adverse patient outcomes.
In response to these concerns, Thistlewood has formed a patient and family education committee at Markey to develop written materials that explain the transplantation process to patients and their caregivers prior to admittance. In addition, Thistlewood’s committee is introducing a two-hour transplant preparation class for patients and their caregivers.
Thistlewood has also turned her attention to the need for more nursing staff training on basic bone marrow transplant team and in March 2015 held courses for nurses to teach evidence-based practices and improve the confidence of staff nurses in this area. Thistlewood also hopes to develop a system for patient follow-up, as many patients leave Markey needing long-term care and support from home.
“Since Tia started in the clinical nurse specialist track in the DNP program, she has demonstrated outstanding initiative to improve the care of oncology patients receiving bone marrow transplant,” Martha Biddle, assistant professor and coordinator of the CNS track in the UK College of Nursing, said. “Her desire and ability to recognize unmet patient needs and develop programs that will improve patient care outcomes are a true asset to the Markey Cancer Center."
When Earl Harris was yearning for the golf course on the fifth week of his treatment, Thistlewood provided him with as much information as possible to give him hope, but also managed his expectations. Harris said the extra time she spent ensuring he was engaged and informed led to a long-term friendship. Harris and his wife Bonnie related to Thistlewood on their shared backgrounds in Louisville, and after his treatment was complete, they celebrated with Thistlewood and her boyfriend — a bone marrow transplant recipient — at their mutual favorite restaurant, Captain’s Quarters.
Now a year out from his transplant, Harris is cancer-free and driving his school bus. He’s getting good reports from his doctors. He makes trips to Lexington to volunteer and serve meals to other patients receiving long-term cancer care at the Markey Cancer Center. He and Bonnie maintain contact with Thistlewood, who sometimes consults them for gardening advice.
“Not everyone has a happy ending, but to see Earl happy and healthy was the best payment of all,” Thistlewood said. “Having the ability to make positive impacts for people who were once complete strangers is the entire reason why I do what I do.”
For more information about the CNS track part of the UK College of Nursing DNP program, click here.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 16, 2016) – Fifteen years ago, Kentucky was ranked first in the nation for both the highest incidence and mortality rates for colorectal cancer. These statistics are made more dire by the fact that colorectal cancer is largely a preventable disease, thanks to regular colorectal screenings.
However, at that time, Kentucky was also ranked next-to-last in the country for colorectal cancer screenings, with just over one-third of people age 50 or over having ever received a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy exam.
These startling statistics spurred several major cancer groups in Kentucky into action, leading to the launch of a program encouraging primary care physicians to recommend and schedule colorectal screening. In rural areas of the state where access to primary care is limited, individuals from the community were recruited for screening and asked to encourage their age-eligible friends to also be screened.
The Kentucky Cancer Consortium (KCC) brings together more than 60 state agencies and organizations and is funded by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Control Program. Working together the agencies and organizations participating in the KCC were able to introduce two successful policy initiatives: the first resulted in a bill passed by the state General Assembly that requires all health insurers in Kentucky to cover the cost of screening for age-eligible patients; the second resulted in a bill passed by state legislature to establish a program for screening age-eligible patients who are uninsured, and to educate the public about the importance of being screened for colorectal cancer.
In the seven years following this new focus on colorectal cancer, the screenings rates nearly doubled, from 34.7 percent of the age-eligible population receiving screenings to 63.7 percent. This raised Kentucky’s rank from 49th in the country to 23rd compared to other states. No other state has had such a dramatic increase in colorectal screenings in such a short period of time.
As a result, the lives of many Kentuckians have been saved: the incidence rate for colorectal cancer is down nearly 25 percent, and the mortality rate has dropped 30 percent. Through colorectal screenings, doctors can find precancerous lesions and remove them before they become cancer. Screenings also allow physicians to find these cancers at an earlier stages, when they are more likely to respond to treatment.
Thomas Tucker, associate director for the UK Markey Cancer Center, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, puts this in perspective.
“A 25 percent reduction in colorectal cancer means that each year 230 Kentuckians who would have developed colorectal cancer in the past no longer get the disease," Tucker said. "This is a remarkable public health success story, and it demonstrates that when we work together and truly coordinate our efforts, we can make a meaningful difference.”
Though much progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go: roughly a third of eligible Kentuckians still aren’t seeking these life-saving screenings. Melissa Hounshell, the community outreach director for the UK Markey Cancer Center, is focusing her efforts on reaching these individuals by distributing FIT kits in the population centers where individuals are least likely to pursue screening. FIT kits are at-home tests that are then mailed to a lab and screened for blood in the stool, a potential marker of colorectal cancer.
“Markey is committed more than ever to leading a comprehensive cancer screening education and prevention program,” Hounshell said. “It’s about reaching some of those people who have been unreachable and really embedding ourselves in the community.”
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 29, 2016) – Dr. Natasha Kyrpianou has been chosen as the 2016 Urology Care Foundation Distinguished Research Scholar Alumna. The award recognizes those in the urologic community who have compiled significant and substantial research and demonstrated academic leadership as well as a commitment to scholarship to advance urology care. Dr. Kyprianou will be honored at the Urology Care Foundation Research Honors Program on May 7.
Currently serving as a professor of Urology, Biochemistry, Pathology and Toxicology and Cancer Biology in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Kyprianou has done extensive research in the field of urology; in 2002, Kyprianou joined the Markey Cancer Center as the James F. Hardymon Chair in Urologic Research.
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uky4ky #seeblue
Media Contact: Olivia McCoy, email@example.com, 859-257-1076
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 26, 2016) — University of Kentucky researchers Ren Xu and Gaofeng Xiong at the Markey Cancer Center and the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences show it is possible to create a three-dimensional (3-D) model system to investigate how breast cancer cells invade lung tissue in a study that was featured on the front cover of the journal, Integrative Biology.
Advanced breast cancer tumors shed cells that can colonize other tissues in a process known as metastasis. If physicians detect malignant breast tumors early, they can remove tumors before they metastasize. After tumors gain the ability to traverse the bloodstream, they become much more difficult to treat. In order to develop treatments targeting metastatic cancers, researchers need new models that more accurately reflect cancers physicians treat in the clinic.
3-D models like the one Xu developed may give researchers the model they need.
Xu’s laboratory created the 3-D lung tissue matrix by removing the cells from the tissue while preserving the extracellular matrix (ECM) that make up the tissue’s structural components. The researchers then showed breast cancer cells could colonize in the lung matrix in a manner resembling metastasizing breast cancer in patients in the clinic.
Xu believes the 3-D model may help develop drugs that inhibit breast cancer progression.
This work was supported by the UK Markey Cancer Center, American Heart Association (AHA), Department of Defense (DOD), and a COBRE pilot grant and does not necessarily reflect the views of those institutions.
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uky4ky #seeblue
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 17, 2016) – UK HealthCare has achieved Magnet Status – the highest institutional honor awarded for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center's (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program. Out of nearly 6,000 health care organizations in the United States, less than 7 percent have achieved Magnet designation.
"Magnet recognition is a mindset and an approach in patient-centered care,” said UK HealthCare Chief Nursing Executive Colleen Swartz. “Our team has been extremely dedicated, focused and committed in achieving this goal and it shows in every interaction we have with patients and their families.”
UK HealthCare has 4,473 nursing services employees including 2,006 full-time registered nurses.
Achieving Magnet Status is a process that culminates in a rigorous review to demonstrate the hospital's commitment to sustaining nursing excellence and improving professional practice. The status represents a solid commitment to continuing education and nursing specialty certification, a cultural transformation of the work environment involving a shared governance model and laser focus on patient safety.
“Our nursing staff have worked very hard to achieve this important distinction and have been committed to this goal and truly deserve this Magnet recognition,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs.
In 2001, UK HealthCare became just the 38th Magnet-recognized organization. The hospital maintained its designation until it was up for renewal in 2009, when the ANCC restructured the Magnet Recognition Program criteria. The fundamental shift from a process-structured infrastructure to an outcomes-based infrastructure led to UK HealthCare needing to make changes to regain its status.
“From a nursing practice perspective, we used the loss of Magnet as a call to action for us to really focus on quality outcomes, patient experience and staff experience,” Swartz said. “The end goal for us was superb clinical care; Magnet status is a byproduct of that goal and we should embrace it as such.”
From 2010 to 2013, UKHC began an improvement process that signified a cultural change toward patient- and family-centered care. That process included evaluating the nursing strategic plan, identifying areas in need of quality improvement, and developing strategies for improvement, measurement and accountability.
“While Magnet recognition is awarded by a nursing organization, it is truly an honor resulting from the leadership of our nurses to demonstrate that it is all of our caregivers who focus on meeting the needs of our patients, their families, and one another each and every day in our hospitals and clinics,” said Bo Cofield, UK HealthCare vice president and chief clinical operations officer. “Everyone at UK HealthCare is proud to be one of less than ten hospitals in Kentucky and one of less than 500 in the nation to have earned this distinction.”
To achieve Magnet recognition, organizations must pass a rigorous and lengthy process that demands widespread participation from leadership and staff. The process begins with the submission of an electronic application, followed by written documentation demonstrating qualitative and quantitative evidence regarding patient care and outcomes. If scores from the written documentation fall within a range of excellence, an on-site visit will occur to thoroughly assess the applicant. After this rigorous on-site review process, the Commission on Magnet will review the completed appraisal report and vote to determine whether Magnet recognition will be granted.
Magnet recognition, which hospitals must reapply for every four years, has become the gold standard for nursing excellence. The recognition is based on adherence to Magnet concepts and demonstrated improvement in patient care and quality. U.S. News & World Report’s annual showcase of “America’s Best Hospitals” includes Magnet recognition in its ranking criteria for quality of inpatient care.
Media Contact: Kristi Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org or 859-323-6363
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 9, 2016) – Dr. Natasha Kyprianou, professor of Urology, Biochemistry, Pathology and Toxicology and Cancer Biology in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, recently was invited by the director of the Institute of Biological Chemistry of Academia Sinica, Dr. Ching-Shih Chen, on an eight-day academic tour of Taiwan that provided unique opportunities to establish global collaborations in cancer research.
The James F. Hardymon Chair of Urologic Research at the Markey Cancer Center, Kyprianou was a distinguished scholar at Academia Sinica and nominated to become a member of the Academy in Taipei.
During her visit in December 2015, she gave presentations at prestigious national institutions and universities in Taiwan including: the National Health Research Institute (NHRI), Taipei Medical University and Kaohsiung Medical University (KMU), where she interacted with the senior leadership and other faculty. Kyprianou was also honored with the invitation to give the keynote address at the international conference on Frontiers in Cancer Research organized by KMU. Finally, she gave a lecture to the departments of Biochemistry and Urology at the National Cheng Kung University in the historic Tainan City. "I was honored and humbled by the recognition I received in Taiwan on a national level," Kyprianou said.
Kyprianou's trip was more than a lecture series on her work on prostate cancer, she also sat on the international advisory board for the NHRI, the international equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, led by NHRI President Kung, and was invited by KMU President Dr. Ching-Kuan Liu to become an adjunct chair professor in the College of Biomedical Sciences. Kyprianou discussed the significance of this appointment, her trip and its impact to UK and the Markey Cancer Center. She said she believes it will foster "creative research interactions between investigators and scholars among the leading academic institutions in Taiwan and UK and also nurture mentoring programs in cancer research between the two countries."
Media Contact: Olivia McCoy, 859-257-1076
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 27, 2016) – In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center has joined 68 of the nation’s top cancer centers in issuing a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer. The 100 percent consensus among the nation's 69 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers demonstrates that these institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nations’ physicians, parents and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.
"Although we have made progress in the past several years, Kentucky continues to rank first in the nation for both cancer incidence and mortality," said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. "We are still in the top 10 nationally for cervical cancer deaths, and increasing the HPV vaccination rates will significantly lower this grim statistic."
National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers joined in this effort in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a national “moonshot” to cure cancer, a collaborative effort led by Vice President Joe Biden.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infections are responsible for approximately 27,000 new cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S. Several vaccines are available that can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers. In Kentucky, particularly the Appalachian region of Kentucky, the rates for these cancers are higher than the national average.
Vaccination rates remain low across the U.S., with under 40 percent of girls and just over 21 percent of boys receiving the recommended three doses. In Kentucky, roughly 37 percent of girls and just over 13 percent of boys complete the vaccine schedule. Research shows there are a number of barriers to overcome to improve vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and parents not understanding that this vaccine protects against several types of cancer.
"It bears repeating that the HPV vaccine can prevent cancer and our low rates of adolescent vaccination in Kentucky can be improved with novel, coordinated community-clinical linkages," said Robin Vanderpool, co-lead on a recent NCI HPV vaccination supplement awarded to Markey and associate professor in the UK College of Public Health. "We have projects on-going throughout the state to improve healthcare provider education and awareness of the vaccine, including working with local pharmacies. Among other initiatives, we also have a comprehensive public awareness campaign spearheaded by the Kentucky Department for Public Health."
To discuss strategies for overcoming these barriers, experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers met in a summit at MD Anderson Cancer Center last November. During this summit, cancer centers shared findings from 18 NCI-funded environmental scans, or detailed regional assessments, which sought to identify barriers to increasing immunization rates in pediatric settings across the country.
The published call to action was a major recommendation resulting from discussions at that summit, with the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention.
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 11, 2015) — University of Kentucky Department of Chemistry researchers Edith Glazer, Sean Parkin and students Erin Wachter and Diego Moyá recently published a study showing that specialized compounds containing the metal ruthenium may be able to visualize or damage specific DNA structures relevant for cancer.
Published in "Chemistry - A European Journal," the work was named a "Hot Paper" for its importance in a rapidly evolving field of high interest, and was highlighted with the back cover.
The ends of chromosomes and some genes associated with cancer have regions where DNA can form unusual structures known as G-quadruplexes, of which there are several subtypes. For cancer cells to continue growing and dividing, they need to untangle these G-quadruplex structures. Researchers have long thought it would be possible to halt tumor growth if there was a way to lock these G-quadruplex structures in place.
Graduate students Erin Wachter and Diego Moyá synthesized ruthenium-containing compounds they thought might bind and stabilize G-quadruplex structures. They designed these potential drugs to act as “light switches” so they would only give a response when bound to G-quadruplex structures. Using a rapid screening approach, they found two compounds that were exquisitely specific for distinct G-quadruplex structure subtypes. Out of 32 biomolecules they tested, two different G-quadruplexes showed the greatest response to the ruthenium compounds.
In collaboration with Parkin, they used X-ray crystallography — a technique that allows researchers to determine the chemical structure of molecules — to investigate the structural differences in the two complexes that could relate to the differences in selectivity.
"It's pretty rare to have molecules that recognize or damage specific DNA structures," Glazer said. "Most molecules prefer [the more common] double helix DNA and the selectivity within different subclasses of molecules is really unusual."
In the future, derivatives of these compounds may be used to visualize or damage cancer cells.
This research was funded by the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health.
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 5, 2016) – Five days before Christmas, University of Kentucky researcher Ying Liang, MD, PhD, received what she described as the best gift ever: a letter of notification that she received a prestigious R01 grant, totaling $1.88 million over five years, from the National Institutes of Health. Not only was it her first such award, she scored at the second percentile, an uncommonly high score indicating that her proposal was nearly flawless.
A glimpse of her CV and her obvious passion for research render the award somewhat less surprising. Liang, assistant professor of toxicology and cancer biology, describes research as “thrilling," and she's dedicated her career to studying a gene that affects stem cell damage from chemotherapy and radiation. She actually helped to discover the gene, called Latexin, about 10 years ago while she was a PhD candidate at UK and member of Dr. Gary van Zant’s lab. When they published their findings in 2007 in the journal Nature Genetics, she was listed as first author.
“It was the first time this gene’s known function in the stem cell was published,” she said.
The Latexin gene, as it turns out, could hold a key to protecting healthy blood and stem cells during cancer treatments, the ultimate aim of Liang’s work. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy target cells that multiply rapidly, as do cancer cells, but healthy cells that rapidly multiply are also damaged in the process. This includes not only hair cells (which is why many cancer patients temporarily lose their hair during treatment), but also blood cells and stem cells in the bone marrow. The damage to these blood and stem cells causes serious short-term consequences, such as bleeding problems and elevated risk of infection, that can drastically increase mortality for cancer patients. Long-term problems loom, too, as cancer therapy-induced stem cell damage can lead to cell toxicity and secondary cancers years later.
Liang hopes that understanding the molecular mechanisms of the gene that affects stem cell vulnerability to cancer therapies could eventually lead to methods to protect these cells during treatment.
“No matter what you study, you have to understand what’s going inside the cell and underlying mechanisms before you can have any kind of drugs or treatments for patients. That’s something I feel really excited about,” she said.
It was this excitement for understanding the why that led Liang away from clinical practice and into the research world 15 years ago. Before moving to the U.S. to pursue her PhD, Liang completed medical training in China at Beijing Medical University and treated patients for three years as a physician. The whole time, though, she couldn’t shake the excitement she’d felt during her limited research experience as a student.
“I had a chance to work in a lab a little bit in the last year of medical school and I really, really liked it. I was kind of thrilled by doing research,” she said. “And when I worked in a hospital for three years I always wanted to be doing research. I was trying to find opportunities to do any kind of research.”
She decided to pursue such opportunities in the U.S., and in 2000 came to UK for a PhD in physiology. She was among the inaugural class of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.The following year she joined Van Zant’s lab, which focused on stem cell biology, genetics and aging. After helping to discover the Latexin gene, publish their findings, and apply for several related patents, she continued to study the gene’s function as a postdoctoral fellow. She then served as a research assistant professor at the University of Illinois from 2009 to 2011 before returning to UK as an assistant professor in the UK College of Medicine.
Coming back to UK “felt like coming home” and quickly presented a significant boost to her research efforts. In 2012, she received a KL2 Career Development Award, from the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science, which offers robust support to foster junior investigators in obtaining independent awards. The program provides salary support for protected research time, didactic coursework, interdisciplinary engagement, and mentored research training. Liang credits the program as crucial in catalyzing her research towards a top-scoring R01 application. She has also received substantial support from the Markey Cancer Center, the departments of internal medicine and toxicology and cancer biology, and the Office of Grant Development.
“I feel so lucky to be supported by this KL2 program because it gave me protected time to really focus on the research project,” she said.
She describes the multidisciplinary mentorship of the program as especially helpful in navigating the challenges of clinical and translational research. Her KL2 mentors included Van Zant; Charlotte Peterson, PhD; Daret St. Clair, Phd; Subbarao Bondada, PhD; Kathleen O’Connor, MD, PhD; Susan Symth, MD, Phd; and Mary Vore, PhD.
“They put in a lot of time and effort, and provided whatever help I ask. Not just about research — whenever I have any kind of problem, I can always go to them. They always help us figure out a problem or who to contact”
Her KL2-supported research focused on identifying the function of the Latexin gene in bone marrow stem cells in both normal and diseased conditions. Specifically, she examined the impact of the gene on human leukemia stem cells that were transferred to mice.
“This is the unique thing about this model — it allows human cells to be grafted into mouse models to observe in vivo changes.”
She found that 80 percent of mice exposed to radiation after the gene was down-regulated survived without stem cells problems and didn’t die from secondary illnesses, compared with only 20 percent that received radiation without inhibiting the gene.
Over the next five years, her R01 grant will build on this research to determine if deleting the Latexin gene makes stem cells more resistant to damage during cancer treatments and to understand the mechanism of the effect. She will also employ human models as well as state-of-the-art molecular and genomic techniques. Vital to the research project are interdisciplinary collaborations with Gerhard Hildebrant, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Hematology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation, and Chi Wang, PhD, assistant professor of cancer biostastics.
“We want to understand why. Why is that if you inhibit this gene’s activity, you can protect the stem cell from cancer therapy-induced damage?”
Liang hopes that understanding the mechanism of the gene could allow the development of a treatment, before or after radiation, to protect against radiation-induced damage to bone marrow. Such a treatment could benefit the many patients who receive cancer therapy or bone marrow transplants. She’s aware that this pursuit could be a lifelong process, or could even extend beyond her own career, but she’s comfortable seeing herself in the lineage of accumulated research knowledge. In the context of helping to discover the Latexin gene she now studies, she quickly acknowledges the years of preliminary work conducted by other researchers before she even joined the lab.
“I’m the first author (on the paper about the gene’s discovery), but there was years and years of work by people before me. My mentor, Dr. Gary Van Zant, put his whole career into this project. Knowledge and models get passed down, and I’m lucky to be able to continue it. Maybe in my life I’ll just identify part of this gene’s function, and then pass it to someone else. But somehow we have to figure out what’s going on,” she said.
Now as a mentor and professor herself, she’s already working to further the lineage of her research, and knows that cultivating curious and self-motivated students is essential.
“I always ask my students, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ The answer I want is that they’re interested. I always emphasize interest first. Motivation will come. When you have interest, when you have motivation, then it doesn’t matter how hard the work is. Everything has to come from the inside,” she said. “If you’re really interested or want to know whether your stuff works, no matter how hard or how much effort, it doesn’t feel that way. You have to be interested in what you’re doing. Otherwise you’ll suffer.”
Her first mentor, Van Zant, asked her a similar question when he first met her: What do you want to do in the future? She told him that she wanted to continue doing science with good publications. If she wanted a near-perfect score on an R01, she didn’t ask for it directly.
In her fastidiously uncluttered office, only one paper is visible, adhered to the wall just beside her computer. It’s a half-sheet of regular printer paper that Van Zant gave her 15 years ago, and it’s the only thing she’s displayed in each of her offices over the years. The visible holes from pushpins suggest that she’s had about 12 distinct workplaces; otherwise, the page is in surprising good condition for its age.
The paper reads:
Van Zant’s Six Cardinal Questions of Scientific Investigation
1. What is the burning question?
2. Why is it important?
3. How are you going to answer the question?
4. What are the results?
5. What are the conclusions? Can you formulate a model?
6. What do you do next?
She generously passes the gift of this wisdom to the upcoming generation of researchers she works with.
“When I have students in my lab, I give them this. I think it’s really important.”
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Physicians and other leaders from HMH and the UK Markey Cancer Center – Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center – celebrated the new partnership at the HMH Cancer Care Center in Elizabethtown. In recognition of this higher level of patient care, HMH cancer patients attended the event and hung holiday ornaments in awareness of some of the area’s most prevalent cancers.
“For patients and physicians, cancer treatment is a battle. The UK Markey Cancer Center Research Network is a tremendous opportunity because it brings them new weapons,” said HMH President and CEO Dennis Johnson.
As a member of the UK Markey Cancer Center Research Network, HMH will be able to conduct Markey-led and some major NCI-led clinical trials because of Markey's position as an NCI-designated cancer center.
"By becoming a member of the Markey Research Network, Hardin Memorial is showing a commitment to helping us conquer cancer in the Commonwealth," said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. "Clinical trials represent the latest, best treatment options for most patients, and being able to participate in major national and regional clinical trials right here in Elizabethtown means that patients are able to stay closer to their own support systems at home and under the direct care of their doctors here."
Clinical trials are key to developing new methods to prevent, detect and treat cancer, and most treatments used today are the results of previous clinical studies. These may include studies in which patients who need cancer treatment receive their therapy under the observation of specially trained cancer doctors and staff. Patients who volunteer for cancer treatment studies will either receive standard therapy or a new treatment that represents the researchers’ best new ideas for how to improve cancer care.
"Cancer care is constantly improving, due in part to the groundbreaking work being done in clinical research," said Dr. Tim Mullett, medical director of the UK Markey Cancer Center Research Network. "Our state has some of the worst cancer incidence and survival rates in the entire country, and we at Markey have an obligation to address this devastating disease. By increasing access to many of our current clinical trials through the Markey Research Network, we have an opportunity to make real progress in improving cancer statistics in Kentucky."
The portfolio of available clinical research studies is targeted, with clinical trials in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancers with the highest incidence and mortality in Kentucky. These include lung, colorectal and cervical cancers.
HMH now is one of four research sites of the Markey Cancer Center Research Network. The HMH cancer care team was invited to join the network based on previous performance in research, including a study to identify the best approaches to help cancer patients quit smoking, which will help improve their response to cancer treatments, Johnson said.
Inclusion in the research network is an extension of an existing partnership of HMH and the UK Markey Cancer Center. In 2014, HMH joined the center’s affiliate network, which focuses on sharing new evidence-based findings and access to refer patients to clinical trials.
“Unfortunately, cancer is more prevalent in Kentucky than in any other state, and this disease has touched too many lives in our region,” Johnson said. “We are committed to doing all we can to battle this disease, and we’re honored to join the UK Markey Cancer Center Research Network and help bring the most advanced care possible to the communities we serve.”
Since 2013, the Hardin Memorial Cancer Care team has also participated in the Kentucky Clinical Trials Network (KCTN), housed at the UK Markey Cancer Center, which focuses on lung cancer research. The KCTN is a primary initiative of the Kentucky Lung Cancer Research Program, a joint program of the UK Markey Cancer Center and the University of Louisville Brown Cancer Center.
Additionally, the HMH Cancer Care Center has offered clinical trials in Elizabethtown for about two years through a partnership with the Baptist Health Cancer Research Network (BHCRN). Clinical trials through BHCRN may focus on breast cancer, brain cancer, lung, colon, cervical, melanoma and others.
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About HMH. Hardin Memorial Health (HMH) is an integrated system of health care providers throughout a 10-county region of Central Kentucky. HMH is committed to delivering the highest-quality patient-centered health care to the more than 400,000 people it serves. With more than 2,000 medical professionals including 230 first-in-class physicians in over 40 specialties as well as primary care and a 300-bed hospital, HMH provides comprehensive health care close to home for the residents of Hardin, Meade, Nelson, LaRue, Breckinridge, Grayson, Hart, Bullitt, Green and Taylor counties. HMH is a county owned system under a management contract with Kentucky’s Baptist Health, headquartered in Louisville.
About UK Markey Cancer Center. The Markey Cancer Center was founded in 1983 and is a dedicated matrix cancer center established as an integral part of the University of Kentucky and the UK HealthCare enterprise.
In July 2013, Markey was designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to receive research funding and many other opportunities available only to the nation’s best cancer centers. Markey is the only NCI-designated center in Kentucky and one of only 69 in the country.
The clinical programs and services of the Markey Cancer Center are integrated with the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital. Markey's cancer specialty teams work together with UK Chandler Hospital departments and divisions to provide primary patient care and support services as well as advanced specialty care with applicable clinical trials. All diagnostic services, clinical and pathology laboratories, operating rooms, emergent and intensive care, and radiation therapy services are also provided to cancer patients through UK Chandler Hospital.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 7, 2015) – This week, the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center is hosting an online wreath auction to raise money for their annual Expressions of Courage Celebration in June.
Wreaths will be displayed in the lobby of the Combs Center Research Building Dec. 7-10. During this time, the online auction will be live and will stay open through midnight on Dec. 10. Bids for the wreaths will be in increments of $5 with an opening bid of $25.
Prizes will be given to the designers whose wreaths receive the highest bid, as well as most creative and most heartwarming selected by a panel of judges comprised of Markey patients.
The auction is just one of many fundraising events for Expressions of Courage, a creative exhibit celebrating those who have been affected by cancer. Expressions of Courage began in 2014 and is held in June to coincide with National Cancer Survivorship Month.
“Expressions of Courage is very important to help celebrate an individual’s journey from their diagnosis to their survivorship,” said Amber Silberman, a Markey nurse and member of the Expressions of Courage committee.
Local businesses House by JSD Designs, Patty's Petals in Carlisle, Ky., and Monticello Wayne County Florist, as well as Markey patients and UK employees have donated this year’s wreaths. To make a bid on a wreath, visit ukhealthcare.uky.edu/markey/wreath.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 24, 2015) – The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Foundation is pleased to announce the hiring of Michael Delzotti, CFRE, CSPG, as new president and chief executive officer. Delzotti will begin his new role in early December.
The UK Markey Cancer Foundation serves as the fundraising arm for the UK Markey Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center serving Kentucky and the surrounding Appalachian area. The Foundation underwent a nationwide search for their new president and chief executive officer this past summer.
Delzotti comes to Markey from the world-renowned and number one-ranked University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he served as senior director of philanthropic resources. There his role focused on two successive $1.25 billion campaigns. He also directed a $60 million campaign focused on discovering novel drug therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.
Prior to Delzotti’s tenure with MD Anderson Cancer Center, he held major leadership positions with Rice University, UCLA and the Special Olympics of Southern California.
“I am honored to have been chosen by the UK Markey Cancer Foundation Board to join them in their effots,” said Delzotti. “This Center has such a distinguished history of providing world-class care for the citizens of Kentucky and producing cutting-edge research for the entire field of cancer care.
“Our number one goal will be to build the relationships necessary to support Dr. (Mark) Evers’s vision of elevating Markey to NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center status. This designation is so important because it means additional advanced research and comprehensive care for our patients and their families. The Center and the Foundation have one focus – to care for the patient and cure this disease.”
In his new role with the UK Markey Cancer Foundation, Delzotti will also serve as the Foundation’s chief development officer, focusing on major gift development and corporate and foundation grants, as well as overseeing capital campaign initiatives and all other aspects of the Foundation.
"With government funding for cancer research waning, philanthropy is critical to the continued success of NCI-designated cancer centers," said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. "I look forward to working with Mike to help support and grow so many of the outstanding clinical and research programs we have here at Markey."
With Kentucky’s status as the nation’s leader for overall cancer incidence and mortality, the UK Markey Cancer Center plays an important role in supporting patients around the Commonwealth. Since achieving NCI-designated status in 2013, the Markey Cancer Center has undertaken several new initiatives in the areas of research, treatment and prevention.
“From the moment the search committee sat down with Mike for the first time, we knew he had so much to offer, said UK Markey Cancer Foundation Board Chair Sally Humphrey. “Mike’s experience at MD Anderson, one of the world’s most respected cancer centers, and his thorough knowledge of healthcare fundraising will allow him to best equip the Foundation to secure financial support for groundbreaking research and ultimately help Dr. Evers and his team to achieve NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center status.”
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